Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. As the little boy in the old Heinz vegetable soup ad used to say “some Ps”.
808 STATE – Pacific 707 / Pacific B (ZTT ZANG 1 1989)
A landmark release for British electronica. The second summer of love of 1988 was dominated primarily by house tunes imported from across the pond. What the scene lacked was homegrown anthems. “Pacific 707” was one of the first. Not only that, its sampled sax melody and general tropical lushness made it a blueprint for a lot of the dream house and chill-out to follow.
ERIC B & RAKIM – Paid in Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Remix) / album mix / Eric B is on the Cut (4th and Broadway 12 BRW 78 1987)
Who remembers the Derek B mix? That was the one that came out first. The Coldcut treatment has become one of the all time legendary examples of the remixer’s art. Pretty much all of the original track is in there, but with old Tomorrow’s World samples and a groovy bass loop and all sorts of Steinski-inspired mayhem going on. Eric B apparently hated it. M|A|R|R|S paid deep homage to it. And it can still, to quote Rakim himself, “Move the Crowd”.
ROLLING STONES – Paint it Black / Long Long While (Decca 12395 1966)
Generally speaking, psychedelia and the Stones didn’t mix well. They spent much of 1967 trying, but generally making fools of themselves. The one indisputable masterpiece of the genre was “Paint it Black”. Significantly, it was a trip to the dark side. The deep echo on the bass and drums, and Brian Jones’ inspired sitar give it an air of intense psychotropic paranoia.
SMITHS – Panic / Vicar in a Tutu (Rough Trade 193 1986)
One of the many sticks used to beat Morrissey with (sometimes fairly) was the seeming attack on disco in this song and the call to “hang the blessed DJ”. It’s disingenuous in the extreme. This was two years before house went mainstream, remember – a time when club DJs were glorified hospital radio announcers whose interest in music varied between passing and non-existent. This was the era of the Hitman and Her, for God’s sake. I would’ve chipped in for the rope!
TEMPTATIONS – Papa Was a Rolling Stone / part 2 (Gordy 7121 1972)
By the time they recorded the 1973 album Masterpiece, there was rumbling in the Temptations ranks that they’d been reduced to bit part players on their own records, with Norman Whitfield’s grand visions taking central stage. They had a point. Personally, I think Masterpiece is a, um, masterpiece, but there are many who think it was an ego-trip too far. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” may have set the ball rolling, so to speak – the full version runs to something like twelve minutes. But there is a real sense of drama, both in the music and in the way that the tale of a dissolute dad is told by the singers. And that bass intro has to be one of the most recognisable in popular music.
JAMES BROWN – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag / part 2 (King 5999 1965)
PIGBAG – Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag / Backside (Y 10 1981)
If it wasn’t the record that invented funk, it was certainly the genre’s defining moment. Everything on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is about the groove. It’s tungsten hard and tighter than PJ Proby’s trousers. Pigbag used the title as a tribute, and their record is funky too, but in a different way. It’s looser, faster, somehow more tribal sounding – particularly with the brilliant drum break on the twelve inch. They were a damn fine outfit who deserve to be lauded more than they are.
FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON – Papua New Guinea / mixes (Jumpin’ & Pumpin’ 17 1991)
Constructed using samples of Circuit’s little known 1990 house track “Shelter Me” and, more famously, Lisa Gerrard’s vocal on Dead Can Dance’s “Host of Seraphim”, “Papua New Guinea” sounded like nothing else back in 1991. It still retains an aura of mystery to it that sounds both celebratory and spiritual. It could be argued that it laid the foundations for trance, and the ethnic house, for want a better description, of global appropriators like Banco de Gaia.
BLACK SABBATH – Paranoid / The Wizard (Vertigo 6059010 1970)
Tommy Iommi’s greatest riff? Maybe topped by “Black Sabbath”. But “Paranoid” has a rare punk-like urgency about it while retaining the sludgy bassiness that made Sabbath legends. If you don’t feel the urge to head-bang to this, you have no metal DNA in you at all.
RADIOHEAD – Paranoid Android / Polyethylene (Parlophone NODATA01 1997)
When people want to tar Radiohead with the prog-rock label, this is usually wheeled out as exhibit A. Progressive? Sure. But not prog. There’s no noodling here. It may be long and multi-sectioned, but “Paranoid Android” is direct and unshowy. It also marks out the band’s rare gift for taking the raw materials of rock, and being able to continually surprise us with new shapes. Some critics swimming in non-main streams like to sneer, but the band have the knack of creating intelligent and original music that still can appeal to a mass audience. If it were that easy, their furrow wouldn’t be such a lone one.
BUKKA WHITE – Parchman Farm Blues / District Attorney Blues (Okeh 5683 1940)
Even by 1940, Bukka White’s type of country blues seemed archaic. Blues, whilst not yet fully electrified, had become more concerned with rhythm, and the band had largely replaced the solo troubador. “Parchman Farm” seems to belong more to the twenties than to the age of an industrial megapower preparing for war. Having said that, it’s an example of country blues at its very best. Parchman Farm was a notorious Alabama prison, and White fully conveys the misery of the institution.
METAL URBAIN – Paris Maquis / Cle de Contact (Rough Trade 1 1977)
Rough Trade wasn’t launched by one of their more famous lefty, artschool, spiky post-punk types, but by a rabble of angry Parisian punks. “Paris Maquis” is a furious attack on the brutal, quasi-fascist Parisian police and whose anger was probably much more justified than many of the English punk bands’ general moans about being bored. Only Stiff Little Fingers probably had more good reasons to be this furious. You’d have thought that Paris would have been a hot-bed of punk, but it doesn’t seem to have been. Or maybe most of it just never travelled to the anglophone world.
TELEVISION PERSONALITIES – Part Time Punks / Where’s Bill Grundy Now (Kings Road 5976 1978)
Pinpoint accurate satire from Dan Treacey and co. Have to plead guilty on this, too. Although in my defence, I was too young to be a first wave punk. And young and naive as I was, I would never have bought a Lurkers single just because it was pressed on red vinyl. And I did use toothpaste, hence a full set of gnashers to this day!
ASSOCIATES – Party Fears Two / It’s Better This Way (Associates/WEA 1 1982)
After a series of dense, often quite brilliant singles for Situation 2, Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie were courted by Warners Brothers, given their own boutique imprint and the finances to fully fund their vision. The result was this rich, operatic, slightly mad piece of grand pop and the classic album Sulk. Like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, “Party Fears Two” has one of the most recognisable intros in pop – the theatrical piano melody that opens it with a joyous blast. I’m sure Liszt or Chopin would have killed for an intro like that!
SHANGRI-LAS – Past, Present Future / Paradise (Red Bird 68 1966)
Vast debates continue to rage about what exactly it was “that will never happen again” from a particularly unhappy break-up, through to an unwanted pregnancy or a rape. Whatever it was has left deep scars on Mary Weiss’s protagonist in this emotionally draining song. The light romance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Weiss’s recollections of an innocent childhood contrast brilliantly with the hidden depths of pain that are only really alluded to. She seems like a woman who can still enjoy the pleasures of moonlit walks and dancing, but underneath the surface is utterly bereft of hope. It cuts me to pieces every time I hear it. They called them the Myrmidons of Melodrama. “Past, Present, Future” is as tragic as King Lear.